“Qi” means life energy. It animates us, providing function to our structure. Its vibrancy is dependent on flow. That flow coalesces in the channels or meridians. These conduits connect the entire body into an integrative whole. Each aspect of us affects every other aspect. And this goes for more than just the physical body, but the emotional and spiritual bodies as well. Qi flows through each of these and all of us and our many complexities, integrating us into one fantastically functional unit.
“Gong” means practice or work. It denotes soft persistence and mindfulness, i.e. eternal presence. Qi gong is not meant to be adhered to rigidly as another “chore”. The time we spend in practice becomes our most cherished part of the day, when we enjoy our wonderful energy system and its growth and development.
Qi gong can be practiced by anyone. Moving, standing, seated, and laying forms are taught widely. In qi gong hospitals in China, bedridden patients watch videos and imagine the movements until they can perform them. There are numerous stories of quick recovery with this method, and, as the patients are able, they dedicate themselves to the physical practice to generate a more complete recovery.
There are many branches to this tree, and no single practice is superior to any other, as long as it continues to inspire your growth in the areas you require. There are many classical forms from throughout history: Wuji, Eight Brockades, Iron Body, Tendon Strengthening, Li Family Qi Gong- to name just a few. The oldest still practiced today is known as the “Five Animal Frolics” developed by Hua Tuo who lived 110-207 BCE. This invokes inspiration from the animal world to better round out our physical form and character. They include the bear (stability), crane (balance), monkey (agility), deer (grace) and tiger (strength).
There are stories of qi gong masters that have developed their systems for super-human strength, endurance, and perception. These stories, though interesting in terms of the possibilities of meditation, are meaningless in our everyday lives. Undistracted by super-human feats, we seek peace and connection, an opening of our hearts to love fully and unabashedly, so that we may pursue our passions without fear, doubt or physical/emotional/spiritual limitations of any kind.
So how do we start practicing? There is an old saying in qi gong: You only get as far as your teacher. A good teacher can save years of poorly directed work and springboard you to a whole new level of consciousness. First and foremost, find somebody that inspires you. This is far superior to buying a DVD, reading books or listening to a tape. Do not be afraid to peruse the Minneapolis options below and go to a few classes as an introduction. I did this for three years before settling on a teacher for the next six years. Then, when I felt drawn down a different path, a new teacher popped up and I continued with him. There is no set formula for this, so we must listen to our inner voice. It speaks with a soft excitement, like our inner child is jumping up and down. And, as with anything important to our spirit, we find what we need when we ask for it- “Knock and the door shall be opened,” so to speak. But we still have to knock.
The following is a simple qi gong exercise widely practiced for its ability to center us when we get anxious, emotional, distracted, or depressed.
Preparation: Sit at the edge of a chair with your feet firmly planted on the earth shoulder-width apart. Place hands gently on your knees with index and thumb forming a circle. Imagine a strand coming from your spine through the top of your head lifting it up to heaven. Tuck your chin slightly. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth. Breathe softly through your nose as a baby does. Breath a few times and get comfortable in the position before moving on. When ready, place your attention at the crown of your head. Now place your attention at the seat of your pelvis.
- Starting at the floor of your pelvis, imagine a white light moving up to the base of your spine and up your spine to the crown of your head.
- From the crown of your head, imagine this white light going through the nasal cavity, through the tongue, into the throat, and down the front of the body to the floor of the pelvis.
- Repeat as many times as is comfortable. If you get hung up in an area, just skip it and continue on. It will reveal itself to you over time. Pair the movement with the breath- inhale moving up the back and exhale moving down the front. Remember to keep the breath soft. It should not be audible. That will soften you into the practice. See if you can continue this for 5 minutes and notice how ALIVE you feel afterward.
Minneapolis Qi Gong Resources:
- Twin Cities T’ai Chi Ch’uan Studio www.tctaichi.org
- Great River Taijiquan http://www.taijiquanjournal.com/greatrivertaichi/
- Seven Stars T’ai Chi Ch’uan http://7starstccmn.com/index.html
- Falun Dafa www.falundafa.org (a volunteer led Falun Gong exercise demonstration to the public on Sundays from 1-3pm at Pathways)
- Spring Forest Qigong www.springforestqigong.com
- Chinatown Tai Chi Center http://chinatown-taichi.com/
- Common Ground Meditation Center http://www.commongroundmeditation.org/programs/#yoga (runs Wednesday morning Qigong practices)
- Four Gates Physical and Energetic Culture: http://fourgatesmpls.com/
- Formless Form Qigong Center http://www.formlessformqigong.com/
St Paul Qi Gong Resources:
- Master Gin Foon Mark http://www.masterginfoonmark.com/